THE GROWING DRUG PROBLEM DOWN ON THE PHARM
Biopharming — pharmaceutical crops and the danger to our food supply
Got a headache? Eat a pharm cookie! Need hormone therapy? Eat a bowl of pharm cereal! "Huh?" you say?
One of the more intriguing ideas that has come out of the biotechnology industry is "biopharming"—that standard crops can be genetically engineered to "grow" pharmaceuticals (drugs). Not only do these pharmaceutical crops have the potential to reduce the cost of manufacturing drugs, if the technique of using food as a drug and vaccine delivery system could be perfected, providing drugs and vaccines to people in developing nations would be greatly simplified. But, as usual with biotech, there are downsides to biopharming.
Today's article will provide some basic information on biopharming and pharmaceutical crops, and it will discuss the potential benefits and substantial risks of the technology.
What Is “Biopharming”?
"Biopharming" is an experimental application of biotechnology in which genetic engineering (GE) is used to create plants that can produce pharmaceutical proteins and chemicals. In spite of this enhancement, biopharm crops are virtually indistinguishable from edible varieties.
Pharmaceutical and biotech corporations see biopharming as a less expensive way to produce large quantities of pharmaceutical chemicals and other potent, biologically active substances. Corporations do not typically disclose the types of chemicals that are being developed—they classify this information as "confidential business information"—but we do know that plants have been engineered to produce a contraceptive, potent growth hormones, a blood clotter, blood thinners, industrial enzymes, vaccines, and pharmaceutical chemicals used for the treatment of severe diarrhea. Some 400 biopharm products are reportedly in the pipeline.
Hundreds of open-air field trials have already been conducted in unidentified locations across the United States. Corn is by far the most popular substrate plant for biopharming, followed by soybeans, tobacco and rice.
Source: The Grinning Planet, March 22, 2005